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Why Do Cats Growl? 7 Cat Growling Meanings

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Our kitties are creatures full of mystery. One moment you’ll see your furbaby kneading your stomach, head butting or rubbing up against you; the next, they act as if they don’t know who you are.

They may go from purring little sweethearts to suddenly despising the sight of you.

What causes the switch to flip in behavior from purring, snacking, and snuggling kitties to growling ones? Why do cats growl?

Cats have various vocalizations that they use to communicate, and growling or hissing is a common way in which cats express themselves. A cat who growls, spits, or hisses indicates a clear sign they are agitated, angry, or afraid of something.
Although we cannot speak fluent meow, let’s look into trying to understand why cats growl.

tabby cat growling


Why Is My Cat Growling – What Actually is Kitty Growling?

Growling is a raspy, harsh, guttural sound that your sweet kitty produces for various reasons. A cat performs the sound with its mouth slightly open. As the cat slowly exhales, air escapes causing the vocal folds to vibrate. 

It can start with an “mmmm” vibration and then turn into a long throaty sound. Sometimes it may sound like a short grunt; other times, it may remind you of yowling.

tabby cat growling why do cats growl

This all depends on your cat’s vocal cords, mood, and the reason for its growling. It’s usually preceded or followed by hissing. It can also be combined with other sounds like moans, yowls, howls, and hisses.

Many beg the question, ‘Is this your house cat’s roar?’ ‘Why do cats growl?’ ‘Is he growling in pain, out of anger, or feeling territorial – or is she just being dramatic?’ Let’s squizz through some reasons why our domestic cats growl.

tabby cat growling 2

7 Reasons That Cause Cats to Growl

Cats have different senses to humans, so when you see your adorable kitty hissing into thin air, it may not be a ghost they are seeing. Even though your cat seems to be merely staring into thin air, there are things our human senses cannot pick up. It can also be a clear warning to ‘step back.’

Let’s look at some of the most common causes of why cats growl.

ginger cat growling

1. They’re Warning You to Back Off

As with many pets, you’ll notice their body language when they are trying to give you a warning sign. Bristled fur, ear movements, tail position, teeth, etc., are just some of the warning signals your pet is trying to say, ‘back off now.’ 

Growling, accompanied by their body language, such as bristled fur, is a sure warning sign. Some cats often growl and use caution flags to protect their territory from other animals on the other side of the windowsill perch.

Others may growl to warn off their owners because they want personal space.

When your cat behaves offensively, they are essentially attempting to look like the ‘tough guy’ to intimidate or threaten. Suppose your kitty is growling at you; it’s a sign for you to scram and get out of their way. In this case, don’t try to touch or stare at them — instead, leave the scene.

black cat growling

2. Your Kitty is Feeling Afraid

Not all growls are signals of aggression or for territorial reasons. Cats can get scared and start to growl out of fear. Our felines may bristle up their fur, tail erect or low, back arched, whiskers back, and produce scary wild sounds out of fear.

Kitties are also fearful of unfamiliar environments, people, or other pets. If she’s afraid of a person or other pet, you should provide a space for them to escape. If she feels trapped, she’ll likely retaliate.

If your cat thinks something or someone poses a threat, it could be growling out of despair. In that case, try to calm your kitty down. It could also be a way of warning you of the possible danger they perceive to be nearby.

black and white cat growling

3. They’re Showing Dominance

When your cat is growling, it might be that they want to express dominance caused by the inborn territorial sense they have.

If you introduce your kitty to a new pet in the same room, you can expect to hear a bit of growling and hissing. This can be because your cat feels a bit awkward with a new pet being in her territory.

tabby cat with mouth open side view

4. Felines are Possessive Creatures

Felines are inherently possessive creatures. If you take something that’s theirs, they’ll likely growl or hiss at you.

For example, adult mother cats are protective of their kittens. If they feel something is threatening their babies, they’re likely to growl at you to warn you to back away from their kittens.

Growling can also come over food or objects like their favorite cat toy. This often indicates protectiveness over their possessions.

grey cat with mouth open being held by woman

⇒ Getting a new kitty? Check out my guide to How to Look after a Kitten, 6 Best Kitten Wet Food Options, and 8 Best Kitten Dry Food Options

5. They Could Be in Pain

Cats can growl when they feel physical pain, similar to how they would meow or cry out of pain.

Injury, diseases, or other physical ailments like arthritis, dental disease, or urinary tract infections can lead to your feline friend growling. It typically occurs when someone tries to touch your kitty where it hurts.

If growling is unusual for your cat or the growling persists, you should get a veterinarian to evaluate their health.

ginger tabby cat with mouth open and paw grabbing finger

6. Your Kitty is Feeling Stressed

Believe it or not, cats stress. This may sound strange as their days consist of tasty treats, cuddles, and naps on their lovely soft cat pillows. What do they have to stress about?

Felines can stress or panic from an array of circumstances. They can stress out when they’re afraid, in pain, or even lost. If your cat battles with stress, you should assess its environment to determine what triggers anxiety in your kitty, such as noise.

Cats are known for their sensitivity and can easily become irritated by various stimuli. Additionally, many cats are sensitive to smells like scented candles or products to alter room scents.

Respectively, each cat responds to situations differently. You should observe your cat’s behavior and ensure that they are in a comfortable environment.

Devon rex with dark face

7. They’re Feeling Angry or Annoyed

The worst type of cat is an angry one. Vengeful, unpredictable, and agitated — who knows what damage your feline can do when they’re in this mood? Cats growl at objects, animals, and even people when they are irritated.

When your cat feels angry or aggressive, it will often pull its ears back, its pupils will constrict, and their fur stands on end. Growling can be a sign that may lead to an actual physical attack on the perpetrator — if they do not back down.

If you notice your kitty growling, don’t be surprised if she hisses and spits too.If your cat continuously snarls and their expression changes, it’s best to somewhat back away and give them time to cool off rather than try to pet them. If they go from moderately annoyed to full-time-bare-teeth raging, leave the room and give them space.

two black and white cats with one having open

FAQs About Cats Growling

If you’re wondering, ‘why does my cat growl?’ then you’re not alone. So many other cat owners are wondering the same thing. These are some of the most frequently asked questions about why cats hiss and growl. 

What Does a Cat’s Low Growl Mean?

A cat that gives off a low growling noise is generally trying to tell the person or animal near it that they need to back off. It acts as a warning that whatever is posing a threat is getting a little too comfortable and needs to back off. 

Is It Normal for Cats to Growl at You? 

Growling is a very normal form of cat communication, so don’t be too startled if your cat growls at you. They are simply letting you know that something is wrong. Most of the time, it means you are encroaching on their personal space, and they are not in the mood for that. They may also do it if you or another animal is venturing too close to something they feel is theirs (such as their food bowl). 

Is a Cat Growl Worse Than a Hiss?

Both the growl and the hiss are forms of communication for your cat. Neither is worse than the other; your cat simply uses both of these to communicate feelings of discomfort or unhappiness. Hissing is often used when cats feel possessive over something that is theirs, whereas growls more often mean their personal space or boundaries are being crossed. 

Do Cats Growl to Protect You?

If your cat seemingly growls for no reason, it could be in order to protect you. Cats can quite accurately predict when something like a natural disaster is going to take place because of their heightened sense of hearing. If your cat suddenly starts growling, it could mean they sense danger coming, and it will try to warn you about the potential disaster. 

How to Calm a Growling Cat? 

If you need to get close to your cat, move closer slowly while making your body as small as possible so they don’t feel intimidated. If you are engaging in an activity with your cat when they start growling, it’s best to stop immediately to prevent any further upset. This gives your cat time to defuse after a potentially heated situation.

A Footnote on Why Cats Growl

Felines are curious, often misinterpreted, animals. Cats continuously try to communicate with us and the world around them. There’s a lot to learn and interpret from your kitty’s vast vocabulary of chirps, meows, purrs, and growls.

However, growling, spitting, or hissing often indicates a cat is feeling annoyed, aggressive, agitated, or frightened. In rare cat cases, they might use growling as attention-seeking behavior or when hungry and insist on being fed.

Cats are sassy pets, and growling may be a means of communicating distaste for something. If you find yourself in a situation where your sweet kitty does end up growling, you should leave them alone.

grey cat grabbing human hand with mouth and paws

Note: You should not punish your cat when they are growling. Instead, try to pinpoint the reason behind why she’s making those sounds. Punishing your pet will only stress them out or further anger them.

tabby cat against person's legs in the snow with

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Monday 18th of April 2022

Today my sweet snuggly cat her favorite past time is lying on me while watching TV or movies growling when I walk by hissing trying to attack me sent her to my room. No idea the weather was outcast today? Where did my snuggly kitty go? She's under the before hiding and could still hear her growling. I put my robe on the floor she basically attacked it good thing it wasn't me. I'm curious if there's anything left of it gee thanks my snuggly cat who will spend over an hr lying on me if I don't have work to do lol.

Amanda OBrien

Tuesday 19th of April 2022

how cute! We love a snuggly cat!


Monday 11th of October 2021

Hello, Had a question my cat barely uses his litterbox and he pees everywhere else should I be concerned about his behaviour this never happens


Tuesday 12th of October 2021

Hi Tazzy - I'm not a vet but I would suggest that you speak with yours just in case. cheers amanda

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